Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Exploring the Shoalhaven Coast / Part 4

Continuing the exploration of our local area, we headed north on a cool, dullish day to Sussex Inlet, a small coastal township situated beside a narrow winding stretch of water that connects the Tasman Sea (Pacific Ocean) to St George's Basin, one of the area's largest coastal lakes (407 sq. km). A population of more than 4,000 permanent residents lives in the town and the adjoining areas of Berrara, Cudmirrah and Swanhaven to the south.
With its long beaches, lakes and waterways the area is a popular tourist centre with the main activities being swimming, fishing and boating.

Once occupied by the Dhurga Aborigines, the first European settler was Jacob Ellmoos, a migrant from Schleswig-Holstein in Prussia. Ellmoos arrived in Sydney in 1878 then sailed and fished his way south. During one fishing excursion he came across Sussex Inlet and was impressed by the combination of plentiful fish stocks and the beautiful and peaceful area. After being granted 40 ha (100 acres) of land on the eastern side of the Inlet, he proceeded to bring out his parents and siblings.
The family erected a guest house, 'Christian's Minde' in 1896, the only one of its kind between Port Hacking, at the southern end of Sydney, and Eden at Twofold Bay. The name means 'Christian's Rest' after Jacob's brother, Christian, who died of pneumonia after surviving several hours in the water when his boat overturned in St George's Basin.
After lunch of a great open hamburger (with the lot) and chips at Joannies Cafe' in the one and only main street, we set off exploring. On the inlet itself we found a few areas suitable for fishing and plenty of places to launch boats for the trip upstream to the Basin. There was a lot of bird life around too. At one place there were a few friendly pelicans who came to visit. Obviously they knew where to be. There was a set of fish cleaning tables on the water's edge next to the boat ramp. No wonder they looked so healthy. I think they were a bit disappointed we didn't have anything to offer.

We were thwarted in our efforts to get to the southern shore of the Basin ( I don't think there is any access by public road) so drove south to the smaller satellite communities on the coast. Here the beaches were all but deserted. Much of the area is in the northern part of the Conjola National Park and there was definitely a hint of Spring in the air with some of the native wildflowers coming into bloom including Banksia, Wattles (Acacia sp.) and Tea tree(Leptospermum sp.).

But is was disappointing to see amongst the ground cover some domestic garden "escapees", like the purple Pig Face (Carpobrotus rossii), in a National Park. Even more concerning was a thriving group of the dreaded daisy like Fireweed (Senecio madagascariensis). Originally from Madagascar, Fireweed is an invasive plant, quickly colonising heavily grazed or neglected pastures as well as cultivated or disturbed land during the autumn to spring period. It competes strongly with existing plants for light, moisture and soil nutrients, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen. Fireweed can sometimes be poisonous to livestock, particularly cattle and horses.
This scourge is gradually creeping south from the Hunter Valley. I had an outbreak a few years ago (probably came in in some hay) and it took some effort to eliminate it. Even this year I found one lone plant growing near one of my dams. With each plant capable of producing 25,000 to 30,000 seeds in a single growing season and its ability to propagate vegetatively, it is important to get rid of it as soon as possible. It has been declared a noxious weed in New South Wales so I have reported my discovery to the 'powers that be'. Will be interesting to see if I hear back.
Driving further south past another inland coastal waterway, Swan Lake, we came to the end of the road at Berrara with a nice view looking back along the beach towards Bendalong and Pigeon House Mountain (Didhol) in the background. And even more amazing to see were two whales about 200m offshore lazily playing together, slapping the water with their huge fins and slowing raising their heads to blow out a stream of spray. We waited expectantly for a long time, camera at the ready, for a breach or at least a tail slap or two but unfortunately nothing.
So I guess that just about finishes this winter's exploration of our area. There are a few more places to see, especially around the southern shores of Jervis Bay as well as closer to home but maybe we will leave those until next year.

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